By David Feddes
Human history is a conflict between the city of God and the city of man. This conflict is leading up to a final battle between Christ and Antichrist. The Bible says that before Jesus comes in glory, a terrible tyrant, the Antichrist, must first appear. The Bible calls this future person “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) and “the beast” (Revelation 13) as well as “the antichrist” (1 John 2:18).
What will Antichrist be like? We can get a preview of this deadly dictator by looking at a ruler named Antiochus IV, a politician who governed in the second century before Jesus. Antiochus ruled a territory that had been part of the empire conquered by Alexander the Great. Antiochus loved Greek paganism and humanism. He loved the emphasis on reason and education, arts and entertainment, athletics and fitness. Paganism approved sexual perversion, killing unwanted babies, and other evils. Antiochus hated all who rejected his “enlightened” humanism, and he set out to change them by any means necessary.
Among those he wanted to change were the people of Judea. Antiochus tried to replace faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel with faith in humanism and big government. Antiochus rewarded people who went along with him and gave them many advantages over those who clung to biblical faith. He replaced the rightful high priest with a phony priest, a false prophet who would lead people away from the ancient faith. Some Jews rejected God’s covenant and became humanists.
But others would not abandon God or Bible-based culture, despite propaganda and pressure from Antiochus. So he decided to take harsher measures. Antiochus declared himself to be the manifestation of Zeus, the chief pagan god, and gave himself the title Epiphanes, “deity revealed.” Antiochus banned Sabbath observance. He plundered the temple in Jerusalem. In 168 BC he built a pagan altar over God’s holy altar, honoring himself as Zeus. He had pigs slaughtered there as sacrifices to himself, an abomination which made the temple a desolation, unusable for sincere worshipers of God. Anyone caught with a Bible scroll was killed and the scroll was burned. If any baby was found to be circumcised as a mark of God’s covenant, that baby was hung around the mother’s neck, and the whole family was killed.
Antiochus caused many horrors, but his reign of terror didn’t last. An old man named Mattathias and his five sons stood up for the Lord and led resistance against Antiochus. The leading son, Judah, was nicknamed the Maccabee (meaning “the Hammer”) and those who stayed faithful to God and resisted the tyrant were called Maccabees. Antiochus tried to hunt them down and destroy them, but he failed. Then came the decisive battle. The soldiers of Antiochus had superior training and equipment, and they outnumbered the Maccabeees six to one. Yet somehow the worshippers of God triumphed, and the dictator’s forces went down to defeat. God’s people cleansed and restored the temple with great joy. After three years of horror, the temple was again the house of God. As for Antiochus Epiphanes, he died suddenly of an unseen, unknown cause. Many believed that God struck him down. That victory for freedom and faith is still celebrated in the festival of Hanukkah.
Vision of Victory
The books of the Maccabees recorded these events after they happened. The Bible book of Daniel told of these things before they happened. Daniel saw visions of Antiochus almost 400 years ahead of time, and these visions were mingled with visions of an even worse ruler to come later: the Antichrist.
Many people have been fascinated, and often frightened, by speculation about Antichrist. There have been many guesses about who Antichrist might be, what nation he might come from, and the meaning of his code number 666. Millions have read novels featuring an imaginary Antichrist, such as Nicolai Carpathia in the Left Behind series. Millions more have watched bizarre movies about the Antichrist, such as The Omen series. There’s often a morbid interest in this dreadful figure and his horrors.
However, God tells about Antichrist not just to scare us but to encourage us. It’s not just a horror story but a victory story. The fact that God tells about the Antichrist in advance means that God sees him coming and is able to deal with him. Whatever we may guess about Antichrist, the most important fact is this: he loses! Jesus defeats him. So as we talk about Antichrist, let’s do so not with sickly curiosity and horror but with confidence in Christ.
Daniel’s visions, together with New Testament prophecies of Jesus, Paul, and the book of Revelation, show a number of things about the coming Antichrist. First, he will claim divine powers and try to put himself in the place of God. Second, though he appears to make man supreme and seems to replace God with big government, the real power behind his humanism will not be merely human but Satanic. Third, he will be a clever, persuasive liar. Fourth, he will be a vicious persecutor. Fifth, he will commit a hideous sacrilege, an “abomination of desolution,” to defile what is most holy. Sixth, he will try to form one world government to rule a united international community with a multi-national military that seeks to wipe out God’s faithful. Those six things are important to know, but the seventh is the most important: Antichrist loses; Christ wins. Let’s take a closer look at these facts.
First, the Antichrist will play god and claim to be divine. He will be the last in a long line of rulers who demanded to be worshiped. Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar made an image and threatened to burn anyone who didn’t worship his image. Persia’s Darius threatened lions for those who prayed to any god but himself. The Greco-Syrian dictator Antiochus IV claimed divinity and murdered Jews who kept walking with God. Rome’s “divine” emperors killed Christians who declared “Jesus is Lord” and refused to swear “Caesar is Lord.”
Daniel knew some of these emperors personally, and God revealed others to him in visions. But worse than all of these, wrote Daniel, will be a final ruler: “The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard of things against the God of gods… He will show no regard for the gods of his fathers … nor will he regard any god, but will exalt himself above them all” (Daniel 11:36-37).
New Testament descriptions of this god player are similar to Daniel’s description. Speaking of “the man of lawlessness,” St. Paul says, “He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). In Revelation 13:8, St. John says, “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast” except for those who belong to Christ.
Ancient rulers required emperor worship. Modern dictators try to destroy religion and make a religion of themselves. In Russia, Joseph Stalin fought against faith and posted huge pictures of himself. In China, Chairman Mao made his Little Red Book a kind of scripture and portrayed himself as the all-wise, all-powerful savior of China. North Korea’s Kim Jong-il produces propaganda of himself as “the Dear Leader,” worthy of all reverence, and images of him appear everywhere in the nation.
The Antichrist will pick up where previous dictators left off and will take their arrogance to unthinkable new heights, openly proclaiming himself to be god. Only those who know the true God in Christ will have the courage and strength not to worship the Antichrist. People already have a hard time not looking to government as their savior, helper, and source of wisdom. Government schools, government aid, and government troops already lure many to count on government more than on God and to love their country more than they love the church of Jesus Christ. The Antichrist will exploit this to the fullest and make himself the object of worship. The world’s worship of big government will reach its final phase.
Here’s a second fact about Antichrist: his power will come from Satan. The Antichrist will be human, but he will be backed by power that is more than human. Daniel 8:24 says of Antiochus, “He will become very strong, but not by his own power.” Pagan humanism was not just human; it was backed by demonic power. The final Antichrist will also get his power from the dark realm of devils, even as he claims to offer enlightened humanism and new, improved religion. Revelation 13:2 speaks of Satan as a dragon and says, “The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority.”
Some humanists today are well intentioned and think they are liberating minds from backward, outdated religion. The Humanist Manifesto states, “We consider the religious forms and ideas of our fathers no longer adequate… Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power for its achievement.” Doesn’t that sound like a grand affirmation of humanity? But any brand of humanism which disregards God and makes man the measure of all things is really a tool of Satan and will cause hellish trouble for humanity.
The ancient Persians had a highly developed culture with some emperor worship sprinkled in, but Persian power wasn’t just human. The Lord told Daniel that Persia’s power was backed by a mysterious “prince of Persia” (Daniel 10:13) from the realm of fallen angels. The ancient Greeks were proud of their humanism, and Alexander the Great portrayed his conquests and his cult of emperor worship as a way of spreading enlightened Greek culture, but Greek humanism wasn’t just human. It was backed by a “prince of Greece” in the demon realm, as the Lord told Daniel (10:20). It is impossible to be simply a humanist. If you will not honor the rule of God, you don’t make humanity supreme; you place yourself under the rule of demonic powers headed by Satan. The Antichrist will be the agent of Satan himself.
A third fact about Antichrist is that he will be a deadly deceiver. Jesus called Satan “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), and Satan will enable Antichrist to tell cunning lies and to fool people. Daniel said of Antiochus, “He will cause deceit to prosper” (8:25), and the Antichrist will be even more skilled at persuading people to believe lies. St. Paul says, “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). In the vision of Revelation, the beast suffers an apparently fatal wound but then is healed and gains greater power than ever.
The Antichrist will have a sidekick in his supernatural powers and his convincing speeches. Just as Antiochus used a phony priest in Jerusalem to lead people away from God’s covenant in the time of the Maccabees, the Antichrist will have a religious leader in his pocket. This false prophet will be a smooth talker with tremendous powers of persuasion. In the vision of Revelation, “he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven in full view of men… he deceived the inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 13:13-14).
The deeds will be so astounding and the words so gripping that everybody will be taken in. Even the very chosen of God would be fooled if God himself did not protect their hearts. As Jesus himself said, “False Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible” (Matthew 24:24). It’s not possible for Satan to seize those whom God has chosen and saved, but that’s just about the only thing that won’t be possible for the Antichrist and his powers of persuasion and deception.
Now, when the Lord tells us this, it’s not just to help those who turn out to be living in the final generation. He wants every generation to beware of deceptions that deny Jesus and lead people astray. The apostle John, who wrote about the beast in the book of Revelation, warned in a letter that his readers should not think only about some future Antichrist of the last hour. They should be aware that in a sense, they were already in the last hour and that they already had to resist various antichrists. John wrote, “As you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come… Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist” (1 John 2:18,22). So don’t just guess about the end times; beware of deception right now.
It may seem like no big deal if a religion says Jesus isn’t one with God or if a government ignores the Bible in favor of secular humanism. But every religion that denies Jesus as God and Savior, and every government that rejects and opposes his rule, is a preliminary version of Antichrist. John says, “Every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world (1 John 4:3).
A fourth fact about Antichrist is that he will be a vicious persecutor. When Daniel foresaw the horrors that Antiochus would commit, he wrote, “He will cause astounding devastation and succeed in whatever he does. He will destroy the mighty men and the holy people” (8:23-24). I’ve already described how this prophecy was fulfilled when Antiochus ordered tortures and massacres, killing entire families, including babies. Daniel’s visions of Antiochus made him sick, but Antichrist would be even worse. Daniel 12:1 says, “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.”
Throughout the years, God’s faithful have been raped, starved, crucified, beheaded, burned, electrocuted, fed to animals, sawn in two, and slaughtered in other ways. But the Antichrist will cause a great tribulation which surpasses all others. In Matthew 24:21-22, Jesus says, “There will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”
Modern technology makes it easier than ever for governments to spy on people and keep computerized files about them. Technology also makes it easier to track financial activity and to prevent people from buying and selling unless they have the proper code. Lately there has been talk about embedding a tiny computer chip just beneath a person’s skin so that if they get hurt in an accident, a hospital can instantly get the person’s entire medical history and list of allergies from the chip. That may sound appealing, but it’s not hard to imagine someone using that type of technology for evil purposes. If the information on your personal computer chip didn’t identify you as loyal to Antichrist, you wouldn’t be able to buy or sell. You would have no rights except the right to die in a horrible manner.
We don’t know how close we are to the final Antichrist, and we don’t know what technology he will use in his reign of terror. But we do know that Antichrist will use all the technology and power at his disposal to control buying and selling and to wipe out any who stay faithful to Jesus. In Revelation’s vision of the future, the beast “was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them… all who refused to worship the image [were] killed… no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name… It is man’s number. His number is 666 (Revelation 13:7,15-17).
There has been lots of guessing about the meaning of 666 and what it might mean. I don’t claim to have all the answers. The meaning of 666 may become clearer when Antichrist actually comes to power. But here’s what I think is the best explanation at this point. Revelation says that 666 is “man’s number.” In biblical symbolism, seven is the number of divine perfection. A triple seven would point to the triune perfection of the Holy Trinity. The Antichrist will try to replace God, but the number six is merely man’s number, and the triple six will always falls short of the triple seven.
Humanism will never replace the divine, but it will try very hard and will stop at no atrocity to get its way. The campaigns of Antiochus, the horrors committed by Nero and other Roman emperors, the anti-religious French Revolution, Hitler’s aggression and death camps, the massacre of millions by atheistic communist rulers, the cruelty of anti-Christian religious zealots—these are foretastes of persecutions that will by launched by Antichrist.
A fifth fact about Antichrist is that he and his allies will commit a hideous sacrilege, an “abomination of desolution,” to defile what is most holy. Daniel said, “They will set up the abomination that causes desolation… but the people who know their God will firmly resist him” (Daniel 11:31-32).
In 168 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the temple in Jerusalem with pagan altars and pigs’ blood. That abomination fit Daniel’s vision, but more would come. Jesus warned his generation that they would “see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel” (Matthew 24:15). The temple would be destroyed and Jerusalem would suffer horribly. Jesus’ words came true in 70 A.D. when Roman legions led by Titus marched into the holy city and the holy temple with images of the “divine” emperor. Titus massacred many and destroyed the temple.
The final abomination is yet to come, when Antichrist “sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Whether this happens in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem or in the upper leadership of the Christian church, Antichrist will twist what ought to be holy and healthy into a filthy horror. When this happens, many may see it as a sign that God is just a joke and that the old religion is dead. But what it really means is that the Antichrist has just pinned a target to his chest, and God is taking aim at him.
Already, we see abominations in educational establishments and entertainment media, where godliness is mocked. Even many churches are blessing immorality, which the Bible describes as abomination. Does this mean the old faith is dead, that holiness is passé, and that we can reimagine God to suit ourselves? No, it means we are in deep trouble, and we had better turn back to God lest we become partners with the Antichrist.
People don’t reach this position overnight. It’s what happens when they persist in sin and unbelief. “They perish,” says Paul, “because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). Whether or not we live to see the final Antichrist, the fact remains that present-day wickedness is the seed of the final abomination of desolation.
A sixth fact about Antichrist is that he will claim rule over a united international community with a multi-national military that seeks to wipe out God’s faithful. He will succeed in conquering, and he will gather his forces for one final battle to wipe God’s people from the face of the earth. According to Daniel’s vision, “He will invade many countries and will sweep through them like a flood. He will also invade the Beautiful Land [Israel]… he will set out in a great rage to destroy and annihilate many (11:40-44).
In conquering a vast world empire and enlisting troops from all over the world for his final campaign, the Antichrist will be helped by the recruiting efforts of Satan and his demons. Revelation foresees “spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for battle on the great day of God Almighty… Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon… They will make war against the Lamb [Jesus Christ], but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen, and faithful followers (Revelation 16:14,15).
You might forget some of the biblical facts about Antichrist, and you might not understand everything or how it applies to current events, but whatever you can’t remember or understand, know one thing for sure: he loses. As Daniel 11:45 puts it, “He will come to his end, with no one to help.”
Just when Antichrist thinks that the whole world is his and that he can defeat even the Lord, he will find out the hard way that nobody can defeat the Almighty. Revelation pictures Jesus as a general on a white horse. “The armies of heaven were following him… I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gather together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet… The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur” (19:11-20).
Jesus will defeat Antichrist easily. Just one puff of Jesus’ breath will send him flying. Just one look at Jesus’ face will send him fleeing. “The Lord Jesus will overthrow him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8).
If even the most evil and deadly person, the Antichrist, will be defeated, we can be sure that any of the lesser evil leaders who come before him will also lose. Even when Satan does his worst at the end of history, even when evil humanity is most vicious and powerful, the Lord Jesus wins. If the Lord is someday going to let Satan and Antichrist give it their best shot to dethrone him, and then overwhelm them totally, that fact encourages God’s people to stand firm and to triumph over the lesser evils that come before the final one.
Already 500 years before Jesus’ first coming as a humble man, the Lord gave Daniel a vision of his second coming as the glorious Son of God and Son of Man, the conqueror of all his foes, including Antichrist. Daniel said,
I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire… I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom will never be destroyed. (7:11-14).
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.